Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA column

1348
Logo for Diehlman at Halftime column. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

An NBA legend walked away from the game last Monday. Carmelo Anthony, known for his stints with the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks, announced his retirement.

After attending Syracuse for just one season, Anthony was drafted third overall to Denver in 2003. He averaged 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.7 assists throughout his career.

“Melo,” as he’s more commonly known, was a 10x All-Star, 6x All-NBA selection, and he was listed on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team in 2021. Anthony will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the Class of 2026.

In other news, two members of the Toronto Raptors’ coaching staff have been poached by other Eastern Conference teams. The Philadelphia 76ers hired former Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to succeed Doc Rivers. In Nurse’s first season with Toronto, he brought them their first championship.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks have hired Nurse’s former assistant, Adrian Griffin, to replace Mike Budenholzer. This will be Griffin’s first head-coaching job. He was an assistant in Milwaukee in the late 2000s, and he was an assistant on the championship-winning coaching staff in Toronto in 2019.

Finally, we have our 2023 NBA Finals matchup. The Denver Nuggets will take on the Miami Heat. Denver swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, while Miami took care of Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games. My official Finals prediction is Nuggets in five.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight

The Denver Nuggets sit atop the Western Conference, and they are four wins away from history.

Denver has never hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in the history of their franchise, and this is their best chance to do so. Do you realize how impressive their run has been? They bounced Kevin Durant and LeBron James from the playoffs in back-to-back rounds!

If you remember my playoff bracket predictions, I had Phoenix bouncing Denver in the second round in five games (and then eventually winning the title this season). And what was the actual result? The Suns lost in six, and they fired their head coach.

Nikola Jokić is proving that he is the best player in the world. He surpassed the great Wilt Chamberlain for most triple doubles in a single postseason. Whenever you’re mentioned in the same breath as Wilt, you’re doing something right!

Jamal Murray is a human flamethrower. Michael Porter Jr. can be as well. This team has shown that they have the stars and the supporting cast to get the job done. The Heat just finished a long series with the Celtics, whereas Denver is rested and ready to go. These Finals are going to be good!

Lowlight

Everyone thought the Celtics-Heat series would be over in either four or five games.

Instead, we got seven. Boston was on the verge of elimination when they went down 3-0. However, they ripped off three straight wins to force a Game 7. No team had ever made a 3-0 comeback in NBA history before Sunday night, and that record now stands for another year.

Even with new head coach Joe Mazzulla, Boston still dominated the regular season like they usually do. The playoffs were a different story. The Atlanta Hawks of all teams almost forced a Game 7 in the first round. The 76ers blew their chance to advance out of the second round. And Jimmy Butler and Caleb Martin were too much for Boston to handle in the Conference Finals.

In the next year, the Celtics’ payroll could get a bit pricey. Jaylen Brown is eligible for a five-year, $295 million extension this summer. Jayson Tatum is eligible for a five-year, $318 million extension next summer. That would be $613 million for two players! The Celtics’ front office might have to get creative this offseason with their decisions about the team’s future.

Random Stat

As the Nuggets are on their way to their first NBA Finals in franchise history, there are now just five teams who have never gotten that far: the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Three of them have been to one Conference Finals in their existence. L.A. made their only appearance in the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago. Outside of one strong playoff run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, Minnesota has been bounced from the first round 10 times, including an embarrassing stretch of seven years in a row! Memphis only saw the Western Conference Finals in 2013. And the Hornets and Pelicans haven’t even been to the Conference Finals!

Thankfully for Nuggets’ fans, they can remove their team from this horrific list. Although most of these five teams are newer than most (e.g. New Orleans and Memphis), it’s a shame that they haven’t experienced as much success as the “attractive” big-market teams. The five teams have rosters that are built for future playoff contention, with the exception of Charlotte. The question is: which of these squads will take their name off of the “never been to the Finals” list next?

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

Comment